Friday, December 18, 2009

Indian Cowboys: The Brush Poppers

© Pat Murkland photo

(reprinted from the latest issue
of Heritage Keepers newsletter,
Autumn 2009 V. 6 No. 3)

It was while interviewing my neighbor Clarence Contreras that I first learned of a group of cattlemen who called themselves,
"The Brush Poppers."

This group herded cattle in the Santa Rosa Mountains, including the Pinyon Flats, Pinyon Alto, and Palm Canyon areas. While many had their own cattle, they also all rode for Mr. Jim Wellman. As a kid I had the opportunity to meet many of these cowboys in the Pinyon Flats area where Jim Wellman had his 101 Ranch.

At that time the area was considered to be open range and if you did not like cattle in your yard, it was up to you to fence them out.

This area was covered in thick brush, yuccas, cactus, and pinyon pines and gave the cattle a lot of places to hide. It was up to "The Brush Poppers" to flush the cattle out of their hiding places and drive them to the corrals.

I can remember watching riders trying to flush cattle out of the redshank up on the slopes of Santa Rosa Mountain. Back then, Jim Wellman had a large barbed-wire corral back at the base of Asbestos Mountain where the cattle would often be driven, separated by brand, moved to a nearby wooden corral for shipment out of the area, or released back out to graze. I assume the cattle were also branded while in the large corral, but I never saw that taking place there. Jim also had a series of corrals over at the 101 Ranch and the branding may have taken place there.

While I do not know if I have a complete listing of the names of those cattlemen who made up "The Brush Poppers," I do have the following names: Mr. James "Jim" Wellman; Mr. Clearance Contreras; Mr. Hank Lichtwald; Mr. Calistro Tortes; Mr. Arthur Guanche; Mr. Ernest Arnaiz; Mr. Castro "Chihuahua" Tortes; and the last surviving member, Mr. George Tortes.

Mr. Harry Quinn shares his memory at the 2009 Dragonfly Gala. (Learning Center President
Ernest Siva is at right). © Carlos Puma Photo for the Learning Center.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Honoring Indian Cowboys

Each year Dorothy Ramon Learning Center celebrates a theme.
In 2009 we celebrated Indian cowboys.

Our annual Dragonfly Award, for high-soaring achievements in saving and sharing cultures, this year went each to Indian cowboys Rodney Mathews and George Tortes. The two cowboys received this honor in summertime at our Dragonfly Gala.

Rodney Mathews, center, with wife Eunice, receives Dragonfly Award from Learning Center President Ernest Siva. © Carlos Puma for the Learning Center.

Rodney Mathews, 74, of Morongo Reservation was born to Margaret and Henry Mathews, Jr. He had five sisters. Mr. Mathews and his wife, Eunice, have been married more than 52 years. They had three children. He worked for Cal-Trans for 38 years and was a Morongo Tribal Council member for more than three decades. He is a lifelong member of the Morongo Cattleman's Association.

Mr. Mathews was nominated for this award by Morongo Tribal Chairman Robert Martin, himself a cowboy, for his leadership in the Cattleman's Association and for his cowboy skills.

George Tortes sent his regrets that he was unable to attend the Gala while recuperating from surgery. His message to all attendees was to live their lives fully.

Mr. Tortes was raised on Santa Rosa Reservation. His mother died when he was about six years old. He grew up riding, roping, and racing, and has lived a long cowboy life, branding his cattle with a G Bar T.

The exceptions were a brief stint at Sherman Indian School in Riverside, which ended when Mr. Tortes ran away and spent several days making his way home, and later in life, his proud service in the U.S. Navy.

Mr. Tortes is remembered fondly as the last surviving member of a group of Indian cowboys called the "Brush Poppers," for the ways they herded cattle in the steep and thick-brush-covered Santa Rosa Mountains.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Thank you

Thank you to all who came to our Dragonfly Lectures in 2009!
And thank you to all who gave Lectures.
Our nonprofit mission is to save & share and "inspire discovery" of Southern California's American Indian cultures.
Our Lectures offer an opportunity for you and your family to connect with elders and others who both inspire and teach us.
Watch for 2010's schedule. Any requests?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Bighorn Sheep Songs

Ernest H. Siva will sing Serrano bighorn sheep songs and tell their story (and the bighorns' story) at our last Dragonfly Lecture of the year.
These ancient songs are haunting and beautiful. Ernest Siva is believed to be the only person singing them in recent years.
In 2008 Ernest Siva received a grant from the Alliance for California Traditional Arts to teach the songs to an apprentice. The Fund for Folk Culture supported the songs' recording.
Read more about the songs here.
Dorothy Ramon Learning Center is working in other ways to save and share these important songs.
Come hear the songs and learn about them.

Details: Dec. 7, 6 p.m., Dorothy Ramon Learning Center, 17 West Hays, Banning